I’ve long been a fan of vacation rentals over hotels. Before Airbnb existed, I stayed at privately owned vacation rentals in Italy, Hawaii, and elsewhere through sites like VRBO and Kauai Vacation Rentals. When Airbnb came around, they made the booking process a lot easier, not to mention there are just a lot of properties available all over the world through Airbnb, and I love the review system, so I mostly rent through them these days.
I love Airbnb and actually prefer them to hotels for a myriad of reasons (cheaper! kitchens and washing machines!), but I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from people about Airbnb’s being canceled on them at the last minute, awful experiences with the hosts or with the place itself, etc. I’ve never had anything but lovely experiences through the site, however, and I attribute that to the set of rules I live by when it comes to renting Airbnb properties.
Research, Research, Research.
I will comb through a LOT of Airbnb properties when I’m planning on booking one. First, I’ll make a wish list for the place I’m going. Then I’ll do extensive searches and research on places that match my search parameters (travel dates, house type, amenities I want, etc.) before I go. I’ll read reviews on the place and check how highly they are rated. Places I think sound like good candidates will end up on the wish list. When it gets closer to the trip, I’ll go through the places on my wish list again. I’ll check if they are available for my travel dates and remove those that aren’t from the list. I’ll re-read the reviews to make sure there aren’t any new negative reviews. Then, I’ll contact the hosts for places that look like good candidates. I’ll ask them any questions I have, inquire about the check-in and check out process, inquire about things I personally need (like non-down bedding for my husband, who is allergic), etc. I don’t just book any Airbnb. I do my research.
Read the Reviews. All of them.
Ok, if a property has 348 reviews, I don’t expect you to read through every last one of them, but if it has that many reviews, that’s great! That means they have a long track record of people staying with them. The more reviews they have, the more accurate their rating on the site is likely to be. You’re looking for places with overwhelmingly positive reviews. That’s not to say a lovely place won’t occasionally get a negative review, but I like to take the time to check out any negative reviews a place got and see if it’s something that might bother me. For instance, if somebody didn’t like the fact that the shower had weak water pressure and marked them off points for that but I’m planning on taking baths anyway, no worries. If somebody mentions the host not showing up to let them into the house, however, that might be an issue for me.
The farther away you’re going, the more diligent you should be.
If you’re planning a local weekend getaway, the stakes are a little bit lower for you and you can afford to take a chance on newer Airbnb properties without many reviews, or with a few questionable reviews. I live in San Diego, California, and if I wanted to, say, spend a weekend in Palm Springs (about a two hour drive away), it’s not going to be the end of the world if something happens and my Airbnb gets canceled on me at the last minute. It will suck, but worst case scenario, I can always drive home, slightly grumpy. If I’m flying somewhere, however, I’m going to be a little bit more nervous about it getting canceled. I had a friend who had booked an Airbnb in Iceland and got canceled on by the Airbnb host at the last minute. She couldn’t find a replacement place on such short notice and ended up sleeping in the terminal at the airport. What a drag! I’m not at all interested in sleeping on the floor in an airport terminal, so I’m going to say it’s pretty important to be diligent with the research before heading farther afield.
Use those filters when you’re searching.
Airbnb has great filters. My favorite? Superhost! For somebody to have achieved Superhost status means they have a certain number of reviews, and those reviews are all positive. This means a lot of people have stayed at this property and that the vast majority of them were pleased with the experience. This is a good thing. I’m not saying don’t take a chance on a non-superhost, but just be more diligent in doing your research, communicating with them if you do.
You can also filter by lots of other things when you search. Is it available on your travel dates? Does it have a kitchen? A pool? A washer and dryer? Is it a private room, an entire apartment, etc.? Is there parking? Are pets allowed? You can even choose different neighborhoods if you have certain areas you know you want to stay in. And of course, you can filter by price range so you’re not seeing places that are $1000 per night when $75 per night is your budget.
Don’t use the Instant Book feature.
I don’t like the instant book feature. I like to send a message to the host before I book. Even if it’s available, they have a lot of great reviews, and everything seems great, I still like to send a message to the host before I book. I like to see how long it takes me to respond and how thoroughly they answer any questions I asked them. If they are reasonably prompt and helpful, I’m going to feel a lot more at ease.
Communicate with the host before you book.
I touched a little on this already, but I really like to communicate with and get to know my host before I book with them. I take the time to read their profile and reviews. I send them a message and say hello, tell them a little bit about myself, when I’m traveling to their city, maybe some of my travel plans (I really want to try some good restaurants while I’m there, I’m excited to see such and such landmark, etc.). Then I ask them questions I have about the place. What is your check-in process? I’m going to be flying in really late…will that be a problem? That sort of thing.
The host’s communication back is important to me. If they take a really long time to respond (like a really long time…I don’t expect immediate response because people have lives and, you know, time zones exist), I’m not going to be confident that they will be available should I need them while traveling. That’s important to me. If I have an issue like trouble finding the place or I can’t get inside, I want them to be available to help me. One of the ways I gauge whether or not they will be good hosts is how well they respond to my inquiries.
It takes a lot of work.
Booking an Airbnb is a lot more complicated than just booking a room at the Marriott and calling it a day, but I’ve found I’ve enjoyed this aspect of travel a lot more than I enjoy staying at hotels. Not only does Airbnb tend to be much more affordable than hotel rooms (leaving more money in my travel budget for flights, food, and whatever else I want), but it also gives you a more unique experience. Since you’re staying in a home, you get to do things like shop in the local grocery stores to cook your own meals (fun in foreign countries AND economical too), and you get to see some interesting neighborhoods that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see.
Since we’re on the topic of Airbnb, if you’ve never used them before, they do this thing where you can get a discount on your first rental if somebody refers you. If you want to try them out and get that discount, sign up for your Airbnb account through this link: https://www.airbnb.com/c/heatherh700
(full disclaimer…you get a discount, and I get a little bit of credit on Airbnb too. It’s a win-win scenario, but I did want to give you that disclaimer because there’s something in it for me, too.). The offer is only good for people who have never used Airbnb before.
Have you used Airbnb? Any tips for the rest of us? Do you like Airbnb or hotels better? Why? I would love to hear about it in the comments!